Saturday, January 21, 2006

Jog me to your leader

Shoes just got smarter

At the moment I've only got one pair of shoes. And you thought you had problems. When I was leaving Sydney, weight and amount of baggage became a priority - so I jettisoned anything I didn't immediately need to make it easier. Worn-out pairs of shoes were an easy loss, so in the bin they went and as a result when I leave the flat in the morning I've got one less decision to make. Of course, being a modern-man that state of affairs can't last forever, so I went shoe shopping today to put it right. I reckon that's about as far as most of you will read, and I can't say that I blame you. Still, I found out some interesting stuff.

I was in a couple of sports shops trying to buy some trainers (sneakers/runners/le pumps etc)(I don't know what the French really call trainers). What grim places they are - have you been in a Footlocker recently? The teenage staff lord it over the teenage customers, dressed in stripey outfits modelled on American Football referees - which only make them resemble prison commandants. After a quick glance at the shelves, I confirmed I didn't need any help to at least three of them - I think I actually apologised the third time - and fled for the safety of Inter Sport, or something similar. Here there were no staff at all, so I could look at the shoes in peace.

How badly made are trainers these days? Ahhhh - that's the first time I've ever used that phrase. I am nearly 30, after all. Don't get me started on Top of the Pops. Anyway, the footwear on display looked like an explosion in a polyurethane factory - swooshing and swirling shades of black/white/grey/blue, clear bits, plastic, metal. Honestly - you knew where you were with Air Jordans. Showing my age again there. I had just about given up, when I saw one that made my eyes light up - the Adidas_1, the 'World's First Intelligent Shoe'. Eh?

I seem to have missed an entire evolutionary level of footwear, as to my knowledge shoes have yet to master rudimentary tools - but there it was - a sentient being, sitting there on the shelf, priced (brace yourself) at a whopping £175. Must have been Harvard-educated, at that price. At first glance, it looks like any other poorly-made running shoe with crinkly bits, but turn it over and it appears to have a motor and gear system built into the heel. Clear plastic panels give you a view of cogs and sprockets, with a small control panel (looking like a volume control) mounted to the outer side, halfway along. I put it back, as obviously I wasn't going to pay that much - telling the shoe why (as an intelligent being it deserved an explanation).

Later on, I used the internet to find out what makes this brainy brogue so special. The spectacularly garish Adidas_1 website was the place to go of course (someone went overboard on the Flash there). You have to enter your name and shoe size before you can look at anything (I'm not making that up, honest). So after typing in 'Javier' and '6' I was in. I certainly learned something, I can tell you. The Adidas_1 has a "Built-in microprocessor capable of 5 million calculations per second" - something it uses not to warn you if there's dogshit approaching, or to bleep if you pass a pub, but to cushion your step irrespective of terrain - "put them on and only four steps from your front door the Adidas_1 has already analysed your speed, weight and the terrain underfoot and have determined the perfect level of cushioning for your needs." It can tell how much you weigh? Is that safe? Does it steer you away from the crisps aisle in the Supermarket? Maybe so - as the website also menacingly threatens "Adidas_1 is the first shoe that can think for itself and then do something about it". So no sneaking Creme Eggs on the quiet, fatty.

Having looked at all the fancy data, essentially the shoe can tell between concrete and sand, and tightens the springyness in the heel depending on what you're running on. The motor has "153% more torque", and the shoe is fitted with a "LightStrike™ EVA with adiPRENE®+ insert in the forefoot.", whatever that is. Maybe if you drop something on your foot, the shoe reacts and flings your leg to safety. Anyway, just as I was beginning to come round to the idea of footwear that you can converse with* I noticed a short and unflowery sentance hidden away in the tekky stuff - "So the change is undetectable to the user". What? So after all that - you can't actually notice if anything is happening? You just let the shoe get on with it, I suppose. Just don't ever throw them away - they'll hunt you down...